Firstly I’d like to thank the Hoppers management for giving me the opportunity to become the head coach of my home club, and also all the members who have congratulated me and wished me luck since my appointment was announced last week.
Preston Grasshoppers has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I recall running around the club on match days when my Dad was 1st XV captain back in the early 90s, and it was only a matter of time until I was having my first playing experiences for the minis at the age of 6. Despite leaving Hoppers at 16 and playing my senior rugby away from Preston I had always hoped to return to the club to see out my playing days, but this was prevented by injury. However I now have the opportunity to take on a much bigger role within the club which I’m very excited about. I hope I can help give the club the success it deserves along with Alan Holmes and the rest of the coaching/management team.
I offered to get involved last summer on a voluntary basis and slowly took on a more prominent role as the season developed. The season was particularly tough as injuries and our lack of ability to adjust to winter conditions lead to a disastrous middle part of the season, though thankfully some good wins at the start and end of the campaign left us comfortably safe in mid-table. Despite the middle 10 games being a particularly difficult time I felt we learnt a lot of lessons and came out of that losing streak as a stronger side. It seemed that we were still trying to adopt the ‘Barbarian’ style of play that Hoppers did so well a few years ago with the likes of Sean Long at the helm, but we lacked the experience and fire power to pull it off effectively and ended up putting ourselves under a lot of pressure in our own half. This meant week in week out our opponents were pinning us back and waiting for us to cough the ball up and give penalties away which they could then capitalise on. During this time I felt we lost a lot of games against opposition we should have been beating.
As a result we went back to basics and had the lads focus on exit strategy and a basic game plan to ensure we played in the right areas to give ourselves a chance of winning matches. Despite this approach seeming rather negative at first, I think it did us good in the long run as we formed a basic structure from which we could mould into a more attacking style of play towards the end of the season. Now these principles are in place I’m hoping the squad can continue to move forward and develop an attractive style of play based on good basics and smart game management.
The important off season period has now begun and we are working hard to add quality players to the squad where we think necessary. Last year some bad injuries really stretched the squad and hopefully the addition of some new players will give us cover should history repeat itself. More importantly the new players will create intense competition for places which is essential for creating a good training environment. I’m sure there will be plenty of news regarding new signings over the coming few months.
We’re also planning pre-season extensively to ensure we utilise our time together effectively and give the players the opportunity to become the best players they can be. The gym will be significantly improved in the next few weeks and Dave Perry will take on the role of conditioner throughout the season. Conditioning obviously plays a huge part in the modern game and I often feel that it’s not given enough focus at this level. Rather than all the lads doing the same generic conditioning work we are planning on focussing on each player’s individual needs, whether they be fat loss or gaining size and strength and so on.
In the past I’ve also found rugby is often neglected early on in pre-season for fitness work, though I intend on getting straight into the rugby sessions as we try to get everyone improving their core skills and on the same page in terms of team structure.
It’s hard to state my ambitions for the coming season as there are so many variables that can affect it, but I feel the aim has to be to win promotion. We certainly won’t be favourites to finish in the top two but that’s what we’ll be striving for, as I don’t think Hoppers should be satisfied with mid table mediocrity. My aims off the field are to hopefully help create a good squad spirit where we enjoy each other’s company and the social side of rugby which is of course very important!
The next 12 months will certainly be challenging and I feel we’ll all discover a lot about ourselves during that time. All I can hope is that everyone buys in and works as hard as possible to ensure next season is a success for the club. I’m proud to be from Preston and I can’t wait to play a role in the future of its rugby club. I’m sure you’ll hear from me much more throughout the season, but until then enjoy the break from rugby and hopefully the good weather that comes with it.